The public key infrastructure (PKI) is the most effective strategy for securing communications between machines—network systems, mobile devices, virtual servers and the IoT—whether inside or outside the corporate boundaries. As the volume of machines, devices and network endpoints grows, so does the need for machine identities and the complexity of PKI management. As a result, the manual management of machine identities—cryptographic keys and digital certificates—throughout their lifecycle becomes unreliable. To secure the sensitive data and defend against various data breach attacks in this rapidly growing environment, it’s important that organizations understand how to safely scale their PKI. This has led many—but not all—organizations to move to solutions that offer pki automation.
Why isn’t PKI automation adopted at a greater scale?
Many organizations prefer to stick to old-fashioned, handcrafted manual processes for managing all their digital identities and certificates. Although there are only a handful of cloud-based PKI solutions that are delivered as a service, certain misperceptions are keeping organizations from adopting these solutions. These misperceptions can be summarized as follows.
- It is easier to manually control your certificates. That was true when automated PKI management solutions were more cumbersome to administer. This is not the case anymore. For example, with ACME the creation and deployment of certificates is only a few clicks away.
- Automation adds complexity. On the contrary. Modern cloud-based PKI offerings come as one-stop shop for automating the management of certificates for all use cases. They are also accessible through REST APIs to integrate certificate management with existing infrastructure.
- Automation results in increased budgeting. This is a myth as well. Cloud-based solutions offer transparent pricing solutions that facilitate budget planning and provide cost effectiveness.
- Manual PKI management is secure. Not only is there a security downside to managing PKI certificate lifecycles manually, but it can be extremely risky to do so. Using manual certificate renewal or certificate database management in today’s complex device and user ecosystem is especially hazardous, especially considering the shortening of certificate validity.
What are the benefits of PKI automation?
Businesses are looking to automate their PKI to enhance the management of their certificate lifecycles and provide increased security for their highly sensitive data. Shifting to PKI automation offers businesses three key advantages:
- Enhanced Security: Automating PKI minimizes human error, reducing data breach risks. It ensures comprehensive management and protection of machine identities, preventing non-compliance due to outdated certificates.
- Increased Operational Efficiency: Automation streamlines digital identity management, saving time, effort, and costs.
- Assured Business Continuity: PKI automation prevents system outages by automating certificate discovery, deployment, and renewal, addressing the common issues of certificate expiry and mismanagement.
Achieving PKI automation for your business
A robust platform for machine identity management is the most effective way to automate your certificate lifecycles. However, there are also certain tools that you can use to increase the use of automation within your PKI, depending on your organization’s requirements.
REST API integration
One of the most common ways of automating your PKI is using REST API provided that your Certificate Authority (CA) supports API integration. You can integrate the API into your PKI either from scratch by developing your own scripts for making API calls or through leveraging existing tools.
Simple Certificate Enrollment Protocol (SCEP)
SCEP is an open-source certificate management protocol that is supported by most operating systems such as Android, Microsoft Windows, Linux, iOS and other major OSes. This option requires a SCEP agent on the device and works in concurrence with your enterprise device management tools.
Enrollment over Secure Transport (EST)
EST improves upon SCEP by adding support for Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC). While both SCEP and EST automate certificate enrollment, SCEP employs the Shared Secret protocol and Certificate Signing Requests (CSRs) for this purpose. In contrast, EST utilizes TLS for authentication.
Automated Certificate Management Environment (ACME)
ACME serves as a protocol to streamline the management of certificate lifecycles between Certificate Authorities (CAs) and an organization's PKI-enabled systems, such as web servers, email systems, and machines. Due to its efficiency in handling and scaling enterprise certificate and machine identity requirements, ACME has emerged as the favored choice for PKI automation among numerous organizations.
No organization is immune from the need to implement effective and reliable certificate lifecycle management. It is a critical function underpinning all digital transformation initiatives that is challenging to execute manually. Digital certificates provide effective and robust PKI-based security to enable the creation of trusted machine identities. Making sure these certificates are managed effectively and efficiently can be a pain point for organizations that do not understand the benefits of automated certificate lifecycle management and how best to implement it.
Organizations using SaaS-based PKI services focused on automating certificate lifecycle management significantly enhance their security stance. Venafi Zero Touch PKI is a fully SaaS-based alternative to creating and running your own internal PKI. It can be configured and managed in any way you need, in conjunction with multiple CAs and with the options you need for security and traceability. Talk to a Venafi expert about how you can discover the benefits of a SaaS-based PKI solution.
(This post has been updated. It was originally published on Apr 12, 2022.)